When it comes to the eviction process, it pays to be prepared.
There’s no point in filing for eviction to remove a bad tenant if you don’t intend to do all the work leading up to it. Which unfortunately, is quite a lot.
As a landlord, you’re responsible for following the legal process and preparing all the evidence necessary to prove that your tenant violated the lease. This means making careful documentation a habit in your rental business well before the eviction occurs.
But for now, let’s focus on the steps you can take immediately before an eviction to ensure success in the courtroom.
Read on to learn the best method to prepare for an eviction court hearing as a landlord.
Hire a Lawyer
Landlords aren’t legal experts, so they shouldn’t be expected to do a lawyer’s job. If you’re facing a complex eviction (or if you’re at all unfamiliar with the eviction process), your number one preparation step should be to hire a lawyer.
An experienced lawyer will have the necessary expertise to make the unlawful detainer suit as smooth and straightforward as possible.
Next, you’ll need to do some of the legwork and collect evidence of whatever the tenant’s lease violation was. If the issue was not paying rent, your evidence is pretty easy to collect, especially if you collect rent online. You can simply print off your payment records and show that your tenant hasn’t paid their due rent.
If the lease violation is something else, you’ll have to be more creative. For property damage, take before-and-after pictures of the unit for the judge to compare. For noise or disturbances, collect statements from neighboring tenants.
Build Your Case
Your case for the eviction rests on how easily you can prove that your tenant violated a term of the original lease. To start building your case, you’ll need to compare your lease agreement (and the specific wording you used in it) to the evidence you collected and determine whether the tenant technically violated the terms they agreed on.
You also need to be careful about state and local laws. To illustrate why, consider this example. Let’s say you’ve written what you believe to be an airtight lease with a late fee clause. Both you and the tenant signed it, agreeing that the tenant will pay a late fee if rent is not paid by the due date. And sure enough, a few months in, exactly that occurs. You immediately apply a late fee and send your tenant a 5-day rent demand notice. When five days have passed and there’s still no rent, you file for eviction, confident that you have a fool-proof case.
But there’s one problem: You’re in Rhode Island. In this state, there is a mandatory 15-day grace period. Now you have two problems: First, your original late fee clause wasn’t legal. And second, you only waited five days after rent was late before filing for eviction. According to Rhode Island law, you would have needed to wait twenty (fifteen days for the grace period, and five additional days for the eviction notice period). Suddenly your airtight case has fallen apart.
As you can see, it’s critical that you are up to date on your state’s laws—and that your lease terms follow them to the T.
Prepare the Paperwork
You’ll need to bring all the paperwork mentioned above to the court hearing to present to the judge with your evidence. Here’s a compiled list of all the documentation you need:
- The original signed lease agreement
- Any addenda to the lease
- Copies of all eviction notices and delivery receipts
- Tenant communications (emails, text messages, phone call records, etc.)
- Receipts for maintenance expenses
- Photographs of property damage, before and after
- Witnesses or witness statements, if necessary
If you’ve followed the above steps, you will have built a strong, infallible case for your eviction. All that’s left will be to present your case, get awarded the Writ of Restitution, and remove the tenant.
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